More Football: NFC Win-Loss Predictions

NFC1

If you missed the AFC predictions where I explain the bet that Neil and I have made on this guessing game of each team’s win-loss record (and if you missed that you also missed an amazing compilation of photos from when I had to pay off this bet last year), check it out HERE.

No messing around today. Let’s just get right into the NFC predictions:

Arizona

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: I wish I could move this team to the AFC for the season. Even with their inuries + Carson Palmer I think they could make the AFC Championship game.

Ross: Winning 10 games, having an effective Carson Palmer for a full season, staying extremely healthy…everything went right for Arizona in 2013. It’s extremely doubtful they catch all the breaks again. Eight games vs last year’s playoff teams don’t help. It feels like Ryan Lindley is going to play a major role in this team’s fortunes in 2014.

Atlanta

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Every time Mike Smith tells this team they are going to be physical on ‘Hard Knocks’ I’m pretty sure they get less physical.

Ross: Potentially four easy division wins plus games against beatable teams like Minnesota, the Giants, Baltimore and Cleveland frightened me into giving them a .500 record, but I was very close to predicting an implosion and all out mail-in effort because of Mike Smith. I just think he’s awful and this team has too many stars to keep wallowing in mediocrity every year. 5-11 isn’t my official prediction, but it might as well be.

Carolina

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: What a disastrous offseason. They are going to waste at least three years of Cam Newton’s career.

Ross: Everything you need to know about the Panthers: Vegas is so down on last year’s #2 seed in the NFC that it’s given them the same odds as Dallas, the Giants and Washington. Is there a bigger slap in the face than being lumped in with the three non-contenders of the NFC East?

Chicago

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 18/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: If they can just have an average defense this year, they should be a playoff team. If they got to play in the AFC, they’d make the Super Bowl, right?

Ross: I didn’t bother checking this stat because I’m certain it’s true. I’ve picked the Bears to win 11+ games and make the playoffs each of the last three years. They haven’t topped 10 wins, nor have they made the playoffs once during that span. I’m always tantalized by the offensive potential. I’m running it back once more. Top five offense, good enough defense, better-coached than every other team in their division.

Dallas

2013 Record: 8-8

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Potentially awesome fantasy football offense. Potentially terrible real football team.

Ross: I’m predicting five wins with a healthy Tony Romo. Picture what could happen if he hurts his back early on and Brandon Weeden takes over. Don’t worry, Dez Bryant fantasy owners. Josh Gordon put up 1,600 yards last year with Weeden as his QB for seven games. I’m sure you’ll be fine when this scenario plays out.

Detroit

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: After they don’t make the playoffs this year they seriously need to consider trading Calvin Johnson for a bunch of picks and rebuilding.

Ross: Another NFC North team, another chance for me to say how high I am on their offense. As much of a prick as he is, I could see Golden Tate having a huge year. First time he’s played in an offense with a quarterback who throws deep and often. First time he’s had a fellow receiver like Megatron to take up all the defensive attention. I hate giving away fantasy secrets like that when all the other owners in my leagues read this blog religiously, but it’s gotta be said.

Green Bay

2013 Record: 8-7-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 10/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: One of these years they have to stay remotely healthy and make some noise, right?

Ross: The Packers simply have a lower ceiling than the Bears. Maybe Green Bay’s more of a guarantee for at least a decent season, but the Bears have greater potential. Something about the Packers always feels a little off. Mike McCarthy is sketchy at best (one of several coaches whose head I’m calling for every year) and they seem to lose key guys to injury every year. Is Aaron Rodgers having the quietest Hall of Fame career among all QBs in NFL history? Some of that has to do with the Packers’ poor playoff showings outside of their Super Bowl season. Some of it has to do with the fact that Peyton Manning won’t stop winning MVP trophies.

Minnesota

2013 Record: 5-10-1

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 5-11

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Unpopular opinion alert: I’m more excited to see Teddy Bridgewater play than Johnny Manziel.

Ross: Pieces of this team are starting to come together, but the likeliness of Matt Cassel starting most of the year at quarterback really limits the Vikings’ potential. I think next year’s Minnesota team led by Bridgewater is going to be fun to watch. Sucks that we have to wait a year for it.

New Orleans

2013 Record: 11-5

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 12/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: A little top heavy personel-wise compared to San Francisco and Seattle, but have a much easier schedule. Potential to get the #1 seed in the NFC.

Ross: These guys make the playoffs every year*. It’s not a question of whether or not they’ll qualify for January football, it’s about trying to figure out if they get back into that mix for a first round bye. The schedule is particularly easy and 5-1 in the division is pretty doable. They might benefit from the playoff teams of the NFC North and West beating up on each other while they waltz through the regular season.

*not including years in which Roger Goodell has a random ax to grind

NY Giants

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: As much I hope Eli is worse than last year, I feel like he has one or two average years left in him. Division is horrible so a little bounce back is not that hard to imagine.

Ross: They’re probably not going to be as much of a train wreck as you & I would like, if only because their defense always seems to be a top 10 unit. There’s a brutal six-game stretch in October/November that’ll likely see five losses. They’re going to have to be flawless the rest of the year to have any shot at the playoffs. Flawless and Eli Manning have never been known to get along very well.

Philadelphia

2013 Record: 10-6

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 9-7

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: My big conern here is that they were the healthiest team in the league last year, and that tends to regress towards the mean year over year.

Ross: Tough one for me to be objective on because of a bet I made in Vegas that says the Eagles will win the Super Bowl (12/1 odds at the time). While I’d love to throw down a 13-3 guess for them, it feels like they’re a lock for that 10/11 win range. It’s not so bad to have money on that four or five seed these days.

San Francisco

2013 Record: 12-4

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 15/2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Two things about the Niners I am very excited to find out: a) How bad the defense might be and b) Has Harbaugh worn out his welcome?

Ross: They’ve only gotten worse since losing the NFC Championship game last January. What if they’re more like last year’s Bears or Packers teams? Top 10 offense but a slumping defense. It will never surprise me to see a Jim Harbaugh / Colin Kaepernick team get to the playoffs, but I think we finally see that 49ers drop off that everyone predicted two years ago.

Seattle

2013 Record: 13-3

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 13-2

2014 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Not worried about Seattle having a target on their back all season. They swaggered (is that a word) last year like they were defending champs. But is Pete Carroll really a coach that can win back-to-back Super Bowls?

Ross: It’s impossible to poke legitimate holes in Seattle’s chances at a repeat Championship. This could easily be a 13-3 or 14-2 season, but I’m dialing it back just slightly due soley to five road games against 2013 playoff teams.

St. Louis

2013 Record: 7-9

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Team most likely to have the bigeest gap between defensive ranking (top 3) and offensive ranking (bottom 3) at the end of the season.

Ross: It’s telling that the Rams’ Super Bowl odds dipped only slightly from 50/1 after Sam Bradford got hurt. Bradford being replaced for 16 games by a 34-year-old who’s barely played a full season over an illustrious eight year career doesn’t even move the needle. Wow. Bradford. Missing 31 of 80 games over his five-year career sabotaged any chance he ever had to be a franchise guy. Possibly one of the biggest busts this side of Jamarcus Russell.

Tampa Bay

2013 Record: 4-12

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: Another potential “sleeper” team if they only had a competant QB.

Ross: I want to think an offense led by Vincent Jackson & Mike Evans, a healthy Doug Martin and a capable Josh McCown could get this team to the playoffs, but I just know something will go wrong. Tampa’s apparently-terrible offensive line. The adjustment period to a new coach. A brutal six game stretch to end the season. For them it might be as simple as still being a QB short of a playoff team.

Washington

2013 Record: 3-13

2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

Neil: I think RGIII is fine. I just think it takes a year for the coaching staff to understand how to use him.

Ross: We’re getting to the point with RGIII where our hearts are telling us he’s going to bounce back and be electric again, but our brains are saying we might have seen the best of him already, however brief. Maybe the two knee surgeries ruined him. Maybe it’s just a learning curve to a new offensive system. This team is a total enigma because Griffin’s a total enigma.

 

We’ll be back next week with a couple more blogs to help you get through the days leading up to Opening Night.

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AFC Predictions: The 1st Bet In History Between 2 Men That Involves An Appleitini

OK, technically that title is false. I know a bet has been made in the past between two guys where the stakes involved the loser drinking an Appletini. I know because I was on the losing end of the bet.

Guest blogger Neil and I are running back our “closest to the pin” challenge this year. We’ve each guessed the exact record for every NFL team, and whoever ends up closer to the actual record for more teams at the end of the year is the winner.

The loser, once again, has to drink eight beverages chosen by the winner over a 12-hour period in Vegas next March. Last year Neil didn’t go the route of force-feeding me terrible, vomit-inducing libations. Instead he went with the strategy of “how embarrassing can I make each order considering we’re in a sports bar surrounded by 500 men.”

Here’s how it turned out:

vegas

I’d say the most displeasing one was the “nice glass of Zin.”

Warning to anyone else considering drinking eight beverages like the ones above while also sipping your own beers & whiskey drinks throughout the day: This may cause you to accidentally announce to the entire sports book that you desperately want to propose to your girlfriend.

Anyway, after two straight losing years with this bet, I’m determined to not let Neil three peat.

The NFC guesses will come later this week. Let’s start off with our breakdown of the AFC:

 

Baltimore

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I might be underrating their defense and the fact that they won’t be defending a Super Bowl title. I’m not convinced Joe Flacco bounces back though.
  • Ross: It bothers me that while knowing they need to keep up with offenses led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, the Ravens did practically nothing to improve their 30th ranked offense from 2013. Steve Smith does not count as a game-changing addition.

Buffalo

  • 2013 Record: 6-10
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: They should easily be the 2nd best team in the AFC East this year. That might only require seven wins though.
  • Ross: Early prediction for next Spring: The Bills’ quarterback situation is debated ad naseum leading up to the draft as they become next year’s “should they move on from their first round pick of just a couple years ago and go for a QB with the first overall pick.”

Cincinnati

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If Vegas posted a line on “qualifies for the playoffs, loses first playoff game, Marvin Lewis fired” would that even be plus money? I say “no” (-120).
  • Ross: The deciding factor on whether to pick the Bengals to win eight or nine games was the turnover on the coaching staff. If it took a player the caliber of Ben Roethlisberger time to adjust to his new offensive coordinator a couple years ago, I imagine there will be some initial disconnect between Andy Dalton and Hue Jackson.

Cleveland

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 75/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 7-9

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Regardless of the QB, this team could have been a decent sleeper with Josh Gordon.
  • Ross: I have Brian Hoyer as being worth two more wins than Johnny Manziel this year. This is likely the dilemma for Cleveland management: Do we assume we’re not a contender this year and just use the season to get Manziel as much experience as possible, or do we go with the guy who can get us to 7-9, possibly 8-8, maybe in the weak AFC we sneak into the playoffs, but of course we risk still missing the playoffs and wasting a year of perfectly good Manziel experience?

Denver

  • 2013 Record: 13-3
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 6/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 12-4
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I’m already excited to see them lose to the NFC Super Bowl representative by four touchdowns on February 1st.
  • Ross: Some brilliant football analysts have already noted how insanely difficult the Broncos’ schedule is in 2014. While they’ve added guys like DeMarcus Ware and half a season of a healthy Aqib Talib, don’t forget that they lost Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, Wes Welker might be out for a bit (or possibly one hit away from hanging up the cleats against his will) and they just lost a key linebacker for at least a month. And let’s just assume Talib will miss at least a handful of games. All this makes me a think a couple less wins than 2013 is very likely.

Houston

  • 2013 Record: 2-14
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 8-8
  • Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you are a serious Super Bowl contender, bench your starting QB when you play Houston this year.
  • Ross: The defense, running backs, receivers, special teams and coaching are all good enough to get Houston back to .500 this year, but unfortunately their quarterback is not. Ryan Fitzpatrick is at least two wins worse than an average starting QB.

Indianapolis

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 20/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Is any team more reliant on one player than Indy is on Luck?
  • Ross: They actually have a 12 or 13 win schedule, but some offensive injuries concern me. Also extremely concerning, they’ve essentially been an extremely lucky team since Andrew Luck came into the league. In 2012, they made the playoffs despite having a negative point differential. In 2013, they had the second worst point differential among division winners even though they played at least five games against the worst teams in the league. Can’t put them in the elite 12+ wins tier until they prove it a bit more.

Jacksonville

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 250/1 (worst odds in the NFL)

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 5-11
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: When Chad Henne and Toby Gerhart have you saying things like “wow, much better situation than last year” it is important to remember “much better” is relative.
  • Ross: Right or wrong, you gotta respect the Jaguars for pulling off the “we don’t care if he’s the 3rd overall pick, we’re not letting Bortles start his career trajectory on the same path as Blaine Gabbert.” Their gun shyness on starting Bortles right away is understood with the way their last 1st round quarterback turned out.

Kansas City

  • 2013 Record: 11-5
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: This team started last year 9-0 and ended the year 2-6. I expect more of the 2-6 team this year.
  • Ross: Strange career from Alex Smith so far, right? Looked like a sure fire bust after his first four or five years, but then puts up a 30-9-1 win-loss record over the past three years and was at the helm of three straight playoff teams (obviously in 2012 he didn’t play the 2nd half of the year). It’s going to be a particularly odd career when it’s all said and done. I bet he’d take “odd” over “monumental bust” any day.

Miami

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 7-9
  • Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Blah.
  • Ross: Confession time…As a child, I was actually as much a Dolphins fan as I was a Patriots fan. I once bought THIS awesome wardrobe piece to show my allegiance. No joke. And for the first time in about 18 years, I find myself kind of liking this team again. I’d never root for them, of course, but I’m on board with all their pieces. They seem to be just above average enough to make the playoffs in the AFC (Confession #2: I wrote this as I watched them play the Cowboys in the third preseason game so that might be massively skewing how good they look right now).

New England

  • 2013 Record: 12-4
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 7/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 11-5
  • Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If I remember correctly, last time the Patriot’s defense was better than the offense they won a Super Bowl.
  • Ross: The Patriots have won less than 10 games just once in the past 13 years. Incredible. It feels like a useless endeavor to try to figure out if they’ll end up with 11, 12 or 13 wins this year. The second half schedule is downright scary (Chicago, Denver, @Indy, Detroit, @Green Bay, @San Diego in consecutive weeks) so an 8-0 start might be necessary if they have aspirations for the #1 seed.

NY Jets

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 66/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 8-8

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: I guess the plan here is to try and build up a young team for when Brady and Belichick retire?
  • Ross: The Jets have turned into the AFC’s version of the Cowboys right before our very eyes. It feels like we’re heading for another year where they’ll play just decent enough to hover around .500 and be part of the playoff conversation in December, only they’ll fall just short. Right down to going 8-8 almost every year, they are very Cowboyian.

Oakland

  • 2013 Record: 4-12
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 4-12
  • Ross: 3-13

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Prediction for combined score in their four games against the NFC West: Oakland 13, NFC West 144.
  • Ross: This team might be scary bad. I mentioned in a previous post that they play nine games against last year’s playoff teams. Their roster sucks. And believe it or not, they might be worst than last year’s 31st-ranked passing offense. I really don’t know if Matt Schaub is an upgrade over the Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn/Matthew McGloin triumvirate. They should probably be the odds-on favorite to “earn” the 1st overall pick in the 2015 draft.

Pittsburgh

  • 2013 Record: 8-8
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Bor-ing.
  • Ross: Part of the reason for the 10-win prediction is because it feels like they have all the parts for 11 or 12 wins, only we know Ben Roethlisberger can’t possibly make it through 16 games. Therefore, we gotta dial it back a bit to account for the atrocious Bruce Gradkowski starts in October/November.

San Diego

  • 2013 Record: 9-7
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 33/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 9-7
  • Ross: 11-5

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: Maybe a little better than last year, but they play the NFC West, so similar record.
  • Ross: Hmm. Why does it feel like we’re all going to wake up some Monday morning in November and collectively say, “Wow, why didn’t I see this elite San Diego offense coming?” Phil Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates & Ladarius Green, a healthy Ryan Mathews complemented by useful guys like Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. The tough schedule is the only thing worrying me, but I’m going with the surprise division win for these guys.

Tennessee

  • 2013 Record: 7-9
  • 2014 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2014 Prediction

  • Neil: 6-10
  • Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Feel You Need To Read

  • Neil: If you combined the best of Jake Locker with the best of Ryan Tannehill, would you have a top 12 QB?
  • Ross: Add them to the mix of AFC teams vying for the #1 pick in the 2015.

 

The Lesser of Two Evils: Choosing My Best Man

best man

Out of the many things to look forward to when planning a wedding, it seems like picking out your best man and groomsmen might be at the top of the list. Who doesn’t relish the opportunity to let a bunch of people know that while they’re really good friends, they aren’t quite as good of a friend to you as this one particular guy is? It’s an easy way to let people know where they fall on your friendship spectrum. And yet, that enjoyment was ripped away from me six years ago when my oldest brother decided to make his two brothers co-best men in his wedding. That pretty much locked in myself and the middle brother to doing the same co-best men thing when we eventually get married. Apparently it’s now a family tradition or something.

While I don’t really get an opportunity to select the identity of my best men at this point, I can still have some fun with these two guys who repeatedly tortured me for the past 30 years. Remember, only one person gets to stand closest to me on my big day. And that’s a lot of responsibility for that person because he’s a heartbeat away from being the groom. It’s a very important decision….which brother gets to marry my fiancee if I drop dead at some point during the seven-minute wedding ceremony.

So with that importance in mind let’s break it down with an old school Pro/Con list (note that names have been removed so as not to incriminate these guys for all of their past misdeeds, some of which were legitimately criminal).

CON

Brother #1

  • Shoved my head into a wall/piece of furniture twice as children that resulted in two emergency room visits and two total stitches.
  • On New Year’s Eve one year, I was hitting it off with a girl whose inhibitions were severely lowered. After a brief make out session, I excused myself for the bathroom. Five minutes later I can’t find her anywhere…searching the area where I left her, searching the bar, searching the dance floor…oh there she is grinding away with my brother, who looks at me as if he hasn’t seen me hitting on this girl all night and gives me a big smile and thumbs up!
  • For more than 10 years, every time he got paired up on a sports team with me he publicly stated how he’d rather be forced to play alone than have me on his team. I’m still not sure he knows how insulting that is.
  • In that same vein, he repeatedly chose to play Legos by himself when we were kids instead of playing with me.
  • Tends to “wing it” for big speeches which turns him into a GIANT wildcard for a wedding.

Brother #2

  • Picked a fight with me during a fantasy baseball draft (because his internet got disconnected and he missed his pick) that caused me to have to walk one mile back to my apartment with a torn ACL. I never got an apology.
  • Once stole a Boston Bruins hockey puck that I owned and secretly got it signed by Adam Oates. He gave it to me as a gift, but a few years later he decided that since he got the autograph, he was suddenly entitled to the puck as much as I was. The puck disappeared a long time ago, and he pretends to not know where it is, but he says it with the same amount of conviction as that dad who pretended not to know where his son was when Nancy Grace announced on live TV that the son had been found in the dad’s basement.
  • Has cheated in every sport, board game and any other type of competition that I’ve ever been involved in with him.
  • Repeatedly tricked me into wearing ridiculous outfits when we were growing up. Off the top of my head, there was the matching Miami Dolphins mesh half-shirt and zubaz spandex shorts, and the most embarrassing moment of my childhood…showing up to a family party wearing my jean shorts backwards like Kris Kross. If brother #1’s preference was physical warfare, brother #2 dominated me in the psychological warfare category.
  • Will definitely be out for revenge after I delivered what many have called the greatest best man speech of all time at his wedding.

PRO

Brother #1

  • From ages 6-14, he listened to me babble on and on every night while we were trying to fall asleep in the same room. While it was always clear he had no interest in humoring my need to have girl talk, at least he didn’t turn into a complete dick about it.
  • Put out a significant fire I accidentally started in our bathroom 8 years ago. Had he not noticed & extinguished this fire, I have a feeling my life would be drastically different than it is right now.

Brother #2

  • I believe he holds a picture of me naked curled up in a piece of my parents’ luggage.
  • If not chosen as the primary best man, he’s very likely to hijack the microphone at the wedding and tell stories of all the weird sexual things I used to make The Simpsons action figures do to each other when I was in middle school, not to mention a full history of the many romantic novels I attempted to write around that same time in my life.

Tough decision, right? Many of you are probably even wondering, “Why pick either of them? They both sound like assholes.”

Duly noted.

I’m tempted to give brother #2 the nod due to the world of embarrassment he could unleash at any time, but I’m picking brother #1 for two reasons. First, because that fire he put out really did save my life. And second, because his swooping skills from that New Year’s story (not an isolated incident, by the way) make me think the wedding wouldn’t skip a beat if I dropped dead. Hell, he might even swoop while I’m saying my vows. I kind of like this wildcard being the second most important person at the wedding (besides me, of course).

Touring the NFL: Finishing up with the NFC South & West

If you missed part one of the NFC tour, where we previewed a possible juggernaut of a division (the North) and the likely punching bag of the conference (the East), check it out HERE.

Today, we finish this stream of consciousness tour with two very exciting divisions. Enjoy.

NFC South

nfc south

Best known for…

  • The only division to never have any team win back-to-back regular season titles.
  • Side Note #1: That’s probably not a “best known” fact, but shouldn’t it be?
  • Side Note #2: I didn’t bother actually researching that fact, but I can’t imagine another division hasn’t had repeat winners.

Most likely to…

  • Continue that streak for at least one more year. Sorry, Carolina.

Quick Hits

  •  This might be the division with the highest variance between possible outcomes. I could see any of the following happening:
    • Saints cruise to the title while the other three teams stumble
    • Everyone except for Tampa slugs it out, whoever reaches 10 wins gets the division
    • Carolina’s defense gives them the glory of being the first two-time NFC South champions
    • The Saints still can’t figure out how to win on the road and their defense doesn’t improve, opening the door for everyone else
    • The Bucs ride a coaching and quarterback upgrade to the division championship in an underachieving division (contingent upon season-ending injuries to Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, of course)
  • At one point I had Atlanta sneaking back into the playoffs, but I’m tempering expectations. They should certainly bounce back better than Houston (if for no other reason than the quarterback disparity between the two teams), but some injuries, suspect talent outside of the offensive skill positions, and a natural distrust for Mike Smith’s coaching abilities have me thinking more like eight wins instead of 10.
  • Bummer about what happened to New Orleans this offseason huh? They became “the sleeper Super Bowl contender who turned out not to be a sleeper because everyone started talking about how they’re a sleeper and now they’re doomed.” Just like everyone else, I too was searching for an outcome in the NFC that was anything but “Seattle goes 14-2 and steamrolls everyone.” I had the Saints as a sneaky pick, but now it’s time to shy away. Way too popular.
  • Carolina’s reward for their first playoff appearance in five years? An October/November run of these opponents: Chicago, @Cincinnati, @Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, @Philadelphia
  • They can thank Clete Blakeman’s marvelous officiating for that first-place schedule.
  • By the way, Carolina facing five consecutive playoff teams is only the second most brutal stretch for any NFL team. We’ll get to the most brutal in a minute.

Fun with gambling

  • As expected, New Orleans is the prohibitive favorite to win the division at -150. Atlanta and Carolina are both +450 while Tampa Bay is +550. I don’t really see any good bets there unless you’re planning to put a hit out on Brees.
  • My least favorite regular season MVP bet from this division is Jimmy Graham, not because his 66/1 odds aren’t large enough, but because Brees has never won an MVP. In what scenario would Graham win it over Brees no matter what his stats look like? Wouldn’t bet on this if it was 250/1.
  • Again, not loving any bets in this division, probably because of all the ways this could play out. I guess I’d put a little money on both Atlanta (+120) and Carolina (+145) over 8.5 wins. Feels like one of them’s going to do it.

NFC West

nfc south

Best known for…

  • Being the division where college coaches go to fail
  • (Joking)
  • Being the best division in football, by a significant margin

Most likely to…

  • Fall short of that hype

Quick Hits

  • In no way am I saying this division will be bad, but it kind of only has one place to go from last year. San Francisco could take a step back with the question marks, injuries and suspension(s) on defense. Arizona’s unlikely to get another healthy season from Carson Palmer, and even if they do, they’re right up there with the 49ers when it comes to brutal suspensions and injuries. St. Louis isn’t projected to improve on their 7-9 2013 record.
  • Speaking of Palmer, I was trying to think of a good candidate to be the next older, former Pro Bowl quarterback who seems-to-be-washed-up-but-actually-isn’t for Arizona. First Kurt Warner, now Palmer. My top four would be: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Matt Hasselbeck.
  • This division finished 42-22 last season.
  • Pretty easy to see why it won’t repeat that insane performance: They face the two toughest divisions in football, their own and the AFC West. No team plays less than seven games versus 2013 playoff teams.
  • Out of all the unfair parts of these teams’ schedules, and there are many, this one takes the cake: Over an eight week period, the Rams’ schedule goes a little something like this: @Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, @Kansas City, @San Francisco, @Arizona, Denver, @San Diego.
  • That’s seven games against last year’s playoff teams in just eight weeks!
  • I guess the NFL’s showing us how they’ll punish any team that drafts “a Michael Sam type” in the future, right?

Fun with gambling

  • Yet another obvious set of odds for the division title, Seattle (+110) and San Francisco (+150) are both contenders while Arizona and St. Louis are both extreme long shots (+750 for each).
  • Just like each of their team’s odds, Colin Kaepernick (18/1) and Russell Wilson (20/1) are lumped right next to one another in the MVP odds.
  • My two favorite bets in this division: Seattle to win the division at +110…because Vegas is paying you extra to bet on a team that may win its division by by four or five games. And St. Louis under 7.5 wins (+120) feels like a lock due to the previously mentioned screwjob from the schedule makers.

Sure, I’ve disliked Seattle since before disliking Seattle was cool, but I’ll admit their presence makes everything more interesting. We haven’t had many Super Bowl winners lately who were a legitimate threat to repeat or kick off a dynasty. It makes every game they play that much bigger. It gives us a little bit of a villain to root against. I hate ’em but I’m glad they’re in my life.

Next week we’ll get into win/loss records for each team, and until then, I’ll be trying desperately to convince myself that we’re NOT heading for a Seattle/Denver repeat in Super Bowl XLIX.

Enjoy week three of the preseason. The over/under on the number of times a media person calls this weekend a “dress rehearsal” is set at 725.5.

Touring the NFL: NFC North & (L)east

At this point I must be the biggest NFC groupie of all.

The NFC’s #1 ball washer, if you will.

I have an unhealthy obsession, but with good reason. The NFC is ubercompetitive and has some of the NFL’s most exciting teams. Any game that features two of the following teams is a fantastic watch: Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia. And depending on health & luck, we might even be including Washington, Dallas and Arizona in the mix by midseason.

I won’t even bother reviewing the embarrassingly small number of teams over in the AFC that provide any kind of excitement.

While it’s silly for anyone to predict a different outcome in the AFC than “Denver, New England or Indy advance to the Super Bowl,” the NFC is very murky. There’s every chance that Seattle will just continue on its recent path of destruction and leave the rest of the conference behind, but it’s a lot more fun to think six or seven teams have a legit chance in 2014.

In just the first three weeks, we get the following match-ups: Green Bay/Seattle, San Francisco/Dallas, Chicago/San Francisco, Green Bay/Detroit, New Orleans/Atlanta.

Can’t wait. Two weeks from today.

Let’s dive into the NFC:

NFC North

NFC-North

Best known for…

  • Being the most titillating division in football every single year

Most likely to…

  • Stop teasing us and become the offensive juggernaut it was meant to be

Quick Hits

  • These guys are ready to turn the NFC North into the offensive equivalent of the NFC West.
  • Would it surprise you if the Packers and Bears ended the year ranked first and second on offense in some order? With Detroit just a small step behind?
  • It shouldn’t surprise you because Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago were third, sixth and eighth in yards per game last year respectively. Detroit’s the only one of those three that didn’t convert those yards into the expected amount of points.
  • Those solid results came with Aaron Rodgers missing seven games, Jay Cutler missing five, and Detroit’s second best receiver being their backup running back.  Rodgers and Cutler should make it through full seasons in 2014, and the Lions’ offense got better simply because Golden Tate joining Calvin immediately gives them the best 1-2  receiver combo they’ve had in the Matt Stafford era.
  • By the way, the worst offensive team in this division, Minnesota, was still 13th overall in yards per game and 14th in points (by comparison, the AFC East, AFC South, AFC North, NFC South and NFC West each had three teams finish WORSE than the Vikings on offense last year).
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve got a bunch of Super Bowl contenders in the North. All four teams finished 2013 in the bottom half of the league’s defensive rankings.

Fun with gambling

  • I expected Green Bay (-125) and Chicago (+275) to be a little more similar in terms of division odds, but then again, I’m probably a little too high on the Bears. Detroit comes in at +400 while the Vikings lag behind at +1000. On initial glance, I’ve got the Packers and Bears each winning 10 or 11 games. Might be worth it to put a little wager on Chicago.
  • Wow, five players in the top 14 of MVP Odds come from the NFC North. Of course Rodgers is at the top with 6/1 odds. I like small wagers on Cutler (20/1) and Megatron (33/1) for regular season MVP.
  • Hmm…usually my guess on each team’s record is within one win or so of Bovada’s over/under win total. But in the case of Chicago, I have them at 2.5 more wins than Bovada set their o/u at. Guess I’ve got my favorite bet of this division: Chicago over 8.5 wins (-150).

NFC East

NFC-East-Image1

Best known for…

  • Being voted “best impersonation of an AFC division” three years running

Most likely to…

  • End the season with the worst combined record of all divisions

Quick Hits

  • Of all the teams most likely to hit rock bottom this year, I’ve got two of them in this division: Dallas and New York. Rock bottom would mean less than five wins. Here’s what’s crazy: If When RGIII gets hurt, this division could have three teams that finish at the very bottom of the league. Now you see why I bet on Philly to win the Super Bowl? Might be able to win their division even more easily than New England or Indianapolis.
  • Just a couple days ago I watched RGIII take hit after punishing hit in a preseason game against Cleveland. What the fuck is wrong with this guy? He also looked about ready to tear some ligaments with his first slide of the game. Does he not have someone to teach him the proper way to do this? Is he so stubborn he won’t change his ways to give himself a shot at a decent career? I might be really down on Washington because I’m starting to lean heavily towards the theory that RGIII will never stay healthy for a full season.
  • If you had to wager your life on which NFC East quarterback’s career as a starter will still be intact five years from now, who would you pick? You should be absolutely stumped once you think through all four options. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, RGIII and Nick Foles. Who in that group inspires confidence to the point where you’d bet your life he’s still playing in 2018?
  • Especially troubling for the Giants and Cowboys are some devastating areas of their schedules. I’ve got Eli and the boys losing seven straight from weeks four through 11 (Giants fans must be looking forward to the Indianapolis/@Seattle/San Francisco consecutive games in November).
  • Meanwhile, Dallas finishes the year with six straight losses, including a four-game run of Philly/@Chicago/@Philly/Indy.
  • The Cowboys haven’t yet tanked in the final month of a season during the Jason Garrett reign. Maybe with this 0-6 ending, Old Man Jones finally puts Garrett out to pasture.
  • You know how this division seems to get an inordinate amount of national TV time every year? I never thought about it before, but this division is sporting the #1, #4, #5 and #9 television markets.
  • You know what’s funny about this division’s putridity potential? That’s A LOT of miserable football fans.

Fun with gambling

  • No surprises here. There’s no runaway favorite to win the division. Philadelphia leads the way (+110) while the Giants (+350), Redskins (+375) and Cowboys (+400) are all clustered together.
  • The best bet to win the MVP out of this division? A tie between a 3rd year quarterback with 16 career starts (Foles) and a 3rd year quarterback who may never fully bounce back from two ACL tears he sustained by the age of 23 (Griffin).
  • I don’t have a favorite bet when it comes to each team’s win total. My favorite bet in this division would have to be Philly +110 to win the East. This could be a landslide of a win, and you’re still getting better than even odds.

Friday marks the end of the NFL tour, with the NFC South & West on the docket. Stay tuned for that, and for next week when we start putting firm numbers on each team’s record for the 2014 season.

Touring the NFL: Finishing Up the AFC In the South & West

If you missed part one of the “Touring the NFL” series where we covered the AFC North and East, you can find it HERE.

Today we get to put the AFC behind us for a while, which is nice because it’s really difficult to get excited about more than three teams in this conference.

 

AFC South

afc-south-collection

Best known for…

  • The Colts’ deal with the devil that allowed them to transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck without skipping a beat while the other three teams continue to march out guys with names like Fitzpatrick, Henne and Locker

Most likely to…

  • Mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking the .500 mark

Quick Hits

  • By my rough math, those other three teams have used more than 30 different starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning came into the league with little or no success.  And the Colts’ fortunes went like this: Best regular season QB in history for 13 years, one fortuitous neck injury, one year of abysmal football, luck into drafting the best quarterback prospect anyone’s ever seen. Whatever the opposite of an ancient Indian burial ground is, that’s what the Colts obviously built their stadium on.
  • The reason I voted the AFC North most likely to be the most boring division in football and not this joke division from the south is because we have actual intrigue here. Will the Colts vault into the Denver/New England stratosphere? Will a new coach and a ferocious rookie pass rusher immediately get Houston back into the playoff mix? Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week 3? Will the Jaguars even once be shown on the Red Zone Channel during the regular season? And will the Colts mathematically clinch the division title by week 4?
  • Even with this division getting the gifts of facing the AFC North and the NFC East as their out-of-division opponents, I’ve got the following win totals for these non-Colts teams: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5. So yeah, I’m predicting even less than the 13 combined wins those three teams had last season.
  • Speaking of easy schedules, here’s why I love Indy this year: The least amount of games any team can play against playoff teams from the previous year is three. The Colts have only four such games, plus the near-guarantee of 6-0 against their division.

Fun with gambling

  • The only division winner bet worthwhile in the South, and you’d have to feel really awesome about their bounce back potential, is Houston +300. The others are: Indy -200, Tennessee +700 and Jacksonville +1400.
  • One bet I love–though not necessarily my favorite for this division—is Andrew Luck to win the MVP (12/1). He’s on a team that lacks other stars and doesn’t have much of a defense. Their record gets inflated by their cakewalk division. And the other AFC contenders (Manning & Brady) are old, have much more challenging schedules, and have won it before. The voters might be ready for a new king of QBs.
  • My favorite bet is a tie: Tennessee under 7 wins (-125) and Houston under 7.5 wins (+120).

AFC  West

AFCWest

Best known for…

  • Being the only AFC division in 2013 that could actually make the claim it was competitive and interesting

Most likely to…

  • Produce the biggest shocker of the year (see below)

Quick Hits

  • Here’s how it works, Denver fans. Your team steamrolls the competition on its way to a record-setting season only to fall just short in the Super Bowl (OK, in your case it was like 35 points short). You’re ready to run it back the next year, even conceding that record-setting regular season pace in exchange for finishing the job in the playoffs. Only your Hall of Fame quarterback suffers a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the first game. You miss the playoffs that year, it takes you a full three seasons to recover from all this chaos and you still wake up in cold sweats every night seven years later thinking about what should have been.
  • Hey, can’t a bitter Patriots fan hope?
  • This division has the unfortunate scheduling quirk of having to play itself and the NFC West. In those eight teams, there are five playoff teams from 2013, a 10-win team that missed the playoffs (Arizona) a consensus awesome defense going into 2014 (St. Louis) and…the Raiders.
  • That Raiders team plays nine games against playoff teams from last year. They’re clearly fucked, as if that wasn’t a given. You know who else faces 2013 playoff teams nine different times?
  • The Broncos. Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of them? Denver’s first half schedule reads like this: Indianapolis, Kansas City, @Seattle, Arizona, @Jets, San Francisco, San Diego @New England. Seven out of eight games against 10-win teams from last year.
  • Sorry to belabor the point, but I’m in awe of that schedule. Lower your expectations for any record setting this year.

Fun with gambling

  • Well, well, well. Did we finally find our value bets for a division winner? If we believe that gauntlet of a schedule is going to slow Denver down, then indeed we have. The Broncos are the expected -300 while San Diego is +500 and Kansas City is +600. I’ll be backing the Chargers, in case anyone cares. Oh, and if you’re absolutely nuts, the Raiders are +1800 to win the West.
  • A word about the Super Bowl…You know how ever year that random team limps into the playoffs and gets hot & lucky while going on the unexpected Championship run (last year was a fluke)? If you’re looking for an AFC team to nominate, why not go with San Diego (40/1) or Kansas City (50/1)? Just a thought.
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Denver under 11.5 wins (-125).

Phew. We made it through the crummy AFC. Good work, everyone! I’m going to take a three-day shower to cleanse myself from that filth, and then I’ll be back early next week with the NFC.

Enjoy preseason week 2.

Touring the NFL: We Begin In The AFC North & East

While we wait impatiently for a couple more weeks to pass—at which point we can confidently predict all the important things that will take place during the 2014 NFL season—it’s time to take a tour through all eight divisions. These posts will be part schedule breakdowns, part commentary on the buzziest aspects of each division and part stream of consciousness from the world’s leading stream of consciousness writer.

I’ll be tackling two divisions per post. The AFC gets to be the boring appetizer (because, seriously, the AFC is so boring), and the NFC gets to be the main course (coming next week).

AFC North

afc north

Best known for…

  • Suspensions, pending suspensions, apparently holding some very incriminating photos of the Commissioner with a tranny hooker (only possible explanation for the Ray Rice suspension), and the world’s most famous quarterback who hasn’t accomplished a single thing worthwhile

Most likely to…

  • Be the most boring division in all of football

Quick Hits

  • The AFC North certainly has all the makings of being extremely mediocre. Pittsburgh and Baltimore finished last year at 8-8, and you can make the argument that Cincinnati will do worse than last year’s 11-5 season while Cleveland improves on their 4-12 record. I see a likely scenario where all four teams finish with either seven, eight or nine wins. YAWN.
  • There’s definitely some intrigue with the five quarterbacks in this division. Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton get to hear about how much they’re overpaid every time they come up short, which will likely be often. Ben Roethlisberger tries to play in 16 games for just the third time in his career (seriously) and easily retains the title of oldest looking QB in the league. And of course, there’s the Messiah vs the Journeyman over in Cleveland.
  • You know how Cleveland has that awesome sports luck? I fully expect Josh Gordon to win his appeal on the pending season-long suspension only to see him sustain a serious injury in the third preseason game.
  • The Bengals are far and away the most talented team in this division, which is exactly why I expect them to miss the playoffs entirely.
  • Here’s what Cincy’s dealing with for a schedule this year: Outside of their normal divisional games, they’re also @New England, @Indianapolis, @New Orleans and home vs Denver. So they get the top three teams in the AFC and one of the NFC’s best. And to pile even more bullshit on the Bengals, five of their final seven games are on the road! (And their bye is in week 4, meaning no rest for a drained and battered team when they’re going through the tough part of the season later in the year). They better jump out to an awesome start if they have any aspirations to repeat their annual playoff disappointment.

Quick Hits On Johnny Manziel (per the NFL’s requirement that if you cover their league, you must over-cover their newest star)

  • He’s an injury waiting to happen. Why? Have you seen his playing style? He despises the pocket. And while a constantly scrambling and rolling out QB is exciting, it ultimately leads to careers like Michael Vick’s and Roethlisberger’s. Sure, those two guys aren’t bad, but just don’t expect 16-game seasons from Mr. Manziel.
  • The other reason for his very predictable health problems? Once again…Cleveland’s luck.
  • Speaking of that incredible luck, any doubt that Lebron James either suffers a torn ACL, gets caught up in a PED scandal or has a heart attack while doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Sorry, Clevers, but I know you’re nodding in reluctant agreement right now.
  • After watching the Browns’ first preseason game, I think I’d pay $150 for access to Cleveland’s local football announcers throughout the season. I’m pretty sure they required a pants change every time Johnny touched the ball. There’s a lot of overstimulation going on among Browns loyalists right now.
  • Brian Hoyer is absolutely the better quarterback at this time, but there’s no way Johnny sits on the bench for long. If the Browns start 0-3 with Hoyer, I think they insert the rookie after their week 4 bye. It’s a pretty easy five game stretch at that point to ease him into things.
  • But if the rest of the AFC is as bad as it appears to be, the Browns would be a borderline playoff team with a healthy Hoyer at the helm all year (and a non-suspended Gordon).

Fun with gambling

  • Apparently Vegas doesn’t have a clue what to make of these teams any more than I do. There’s essentially no favorite to win the division. Pittsburgh’s +200, Cincinnati is +200, Baltimore is +275, and Cleveland’s +500.
  • As for who will win the AFC: After Denver, New England and Indy, the oddsmakers basically threw the entire AFC North into the mix not daring to pick one with significantly better odds to get to the big game.
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? That would be Mr. Old & Dirty himself, Ben Roethlisberger (50/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Manziel to win MVP at 100/1 odds.
  • RELAX, I’M JOKING. My real favorite is: Pittsburgh to win more than 8.5 games (-150). When in doubt, go with the best quarterback in the division.

 

AFC East

afc east

Best known for…

  • Being the most dominated division of the past decade (seriously, the Patriots must be so bored at this point)

Most likely to…

  • Finish exactly the same as the past three years where New England wins 12+ games and the other three teams can’t crack .500

Quick Hits

  • Everything begins with the Patriots when discussing the AFC East. I know it’s obnoxious, but these other three teams haven’t even made an effort to unseat them during the Brady/Belichick era. Is that why New England struggles in the playoffs these days? Because while the other playoff teams are being tested weekly in their respective divisions, New England’s sleepwalking its way through the regular season?
  • I fully expected to review the 2013 Patriots results and see that they decimated their division like usual. Actually, they went 4-2 and only outscored those opponents by 22 total points. Maybe the division’s finally catching up?
  • More interesting than thinking about that pipe dream…if you combined the Bills, Dolphins and Jets and made the best 53-man roster out of all possible players, would that team be able to keep up with New England? For the skill players you’d have to go with Ryan Tannehill, C.J. Spiller (?), Mike Wallace, Sammy Watkins, Erick Decker and Scott Chandler??
  • Jesus, the Patriots are truly blessed.
  • But in the perpetually watered-down AFC, could one of these three lesser teams sneak into the playoffs? Of course! But who could it be? As of now, I’m only willing to eliminate the Bills. On offense EJ Manuel might suck, C.J. Spiller probably isn’t going to turn into the next 2,000 yard rusher like we thought, and they seem to be expecting WAY too much from rookie receiver Watkins. On defense, they’ve only gotten worse in the past year.
  • I’m giving the Dolphins the nod over the Jets. Just barely, like 8-8 vs 7-9.
  • For once it seems like this division got stuck with a tough schedule. They face the AFC West, which produced three playoff teams last year, and they also get the NFC North, a division that people seem very bullish on (besides the Vikings).

Fun with gambling

  • Unlike the AFC North, the oddsmakers seem to think this division has already been won. The Patriots are -300 to win it while the Dolphins and Jets are both +650. The Bills pull up the rear at +900.
  • This division provides no good Super Bowl gambling options. You either have to take the team with the second best odds to win the the Championship (New England at 15/2) or expect an outright miracle in the form of the Dolphins or Jets (both 66/1).
  • Who in the division has the best MVP odds? Tom Brady, of course (9/1). Next best odds after him? A tie between Spiller and Rob Gronkowski (100/1).
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Patriots over 11 wins (-135).

That’s all I’ve got for this first installment of the division by division tours. It’s sad to think that out of these eight teams only two or three are even the tiniest bit interesting. I’m already looking forward to previewing the NFC, but I still have to get through the other eight AFC teams. More coming on Friday.

How I Choose To Remember Robin Williams: A Perfect Day in 1992

aladdin

One of those unavoidable truths of growing up is that other people will die. Of course the truly devastating losses are the people you actually know and love…family, friends, coworkers. But sometimes the death of a well-known person who you never came close to meeting, yet still gave you some incredible memories, can be equally jarring.

It can happen any time, but for me it feels like the age of 25 is when some celebrities who were big influences on my childhood started passing away. To name a few: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Adam Yauch (MCA from Beastie Boys), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Kelly from Kris Kross and of course, the Ultimate Warrior.

But none of those unexpected deaths, not even The King of Pop himself, stopped me cold and brought my day to a halt quite like Monday’s stunning news about Robin Williams.

My plan for Monday night was to get home from work, turn on the TV and immerse myself in all the NFL preseason games I taped last week that I hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. I wanted to do a ton of football prep and writing.

I got as far as turning on the TV. That’s when I saw the news about Williams. For the next 90 minutes, I sat at my computer, looked through Twitter, and watched every clip that every person on my feed linked to. There were so many: snippets from Williams’ movie performances like Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and then a bunch of clips from his standup routines and appearances on late night TV through the years (amazing that his career spanned five decades and he was only 63).

You gotta hand it to Twitter. For all the negative that comes from social media, we get access to an immediate oral history whenever something tragic like this happens.

I’m not writing to pretend like I was the biggest Robin Williams fan. I’m not able to rank all of his performances because out of his 102 acting credits that I just reviewed on IMDB, I’ve probably only seen 15-20 of them. I grew up in the 90s so movies like Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Good Will Hunting were in my Robin Williams wheelhouse.

Of all his incredible, pioneering performances, I think Williams’ Genie in Aladdin was my favorite. There are two reasons for this. First, because if you think about it, he was born to be a cartoon. I bet if you asked him his biggest complaint with acting, he’d say that it sucks to have physical limitations with your body. You can only disguise yourself in makeup and prosthetics so much. You can only contort your face in certain ways. Same with the rest of your body. Animation gives your acting a kind of freedom that the real world could never do. And Williams, more than anyone, lived for that physical side of performing.

The second reason Aladdin is my favorite in the lengthy Robin Williams Canon is because of the memory I have from seeing it in the theaters. I was nine years old in 1992, the right age for that movie. My two older brothers had no interest in a kid’s movie so I went to see it with just my parents. In a family of three brothers all born within five years of each other, there were almost never any “with just my parents” moments, so this was special. I sat in between them with the gummy bears on my lap (fuck popcorn). Part of me thinks I could go back to that very movie theater in Leominster, Massachusetts, and find the exact three seats we sat in. The memory is that vivid.

Aladdin was an incredible movie, probably my favorite Disney movie of all time. And while the other main characters were fine (Aladdin voiced by D.J. Tanner’s boyfriend, Princess Jasmine with a body that nine year olds wouldn’t even know what to do with), Genie stole the show. It was his movie and everyone else was just along for the ride. It was scary how much you could see Robin Williams in the Genie.

So really, that day at Loews, it was me, my Mom, my Dad and Williams. One detail I can’t remember is whether or not I drank a Diet Coke. If I did, it was truly a perfect day.

What especially bummed me out on Monday when I heard the news was that none of the good memories from Williams’ years entertaining us came immediately to mind. Instead, I couldn’t help but think of how much I had dismissed him in the past 10 years or so. For whatever reason, he had turned into that annoying guy who’s always doing that schtick where he talks in a million voices, doesn’t make very good jokes and is showing up on crummy TV shows with Sarah Michelle Gellar.

For you sports fans out there, isn’t this the way it always happens? We don’t remember the 1990s version of Brett Favre who led the Packers to a Championship. We remember the interception machine from the mid 2000s who permanently ruined the concept of gracefully retiring for everyone else. We don’t remember how Nomar Garciaparra was THE BEST shortstop in baseball for those first few years of his career. Instead we recall how he became ornery with the media, got unceremoniously shown the door in Boston and then had his body betray him until he retired as an afterthought in 2010. Even with a guy like Michael Jordan, I sometimes find myself focusing on his Washington Wizards days and his failure as an NBA owner more than the prime of his career that earned him Greatest Of All Time status.

I wish it didn’t have to happen like that, but that’s how our memories work. Unless you go out on the very top of your game, we’re going to diminish your greatest moments in our heads.

I can’t imagine even Williams himself would say he went out on the top of his acting game, but that doesn’t mean I should penalize him for that. Instead, I’m choosing to remember him for that perfect day he gave me, capped off by the best two minutes and 30 seconds of his best movie:

Football Fan Beware: NFL Preseason Speak In Full Bloom

bruce arians

While the NFL’s Hall Of Fame Game last Sunday gave us a little taste of the preseason, it was yesterday that the real craziness began. Six preseason games on Thursday, six more today and four on Saturday. And for the next four weeks, that schedule basically repeats itself.

For the second straight year, I’d like to plead my case for watching all 65 preseason games (all of which can be viewed on the NFL Network, as their ads repeatedly tell us).

Only a lunatic would watch these 65 games in their entirety. What I’ve always said is that you should DVR the games and watch all of the first half while fast forwarding through any stoppage in action. That way you can see the starters and the second-stringers who are fighting for starting jobs in about 35-40 minutes.

In my opinion, it’s the only way to truly evaluate players and get a leg up on your fellow fantasy competitors. And there’s nothing more gratifying than “discovering” a player in the preseason that goes on to have a huge year. You feel like he’s your guy and you feel like a fucking genius for seeing the talent during preseason while everyone else was simply reading the same canned reports from the media (this is exactly how I figured out Jordan Cameron would be a great tight end selection in fantasy last season).

Let’s face it. You can’t learn much from coaches’ press conferences, player interviews or analysts’ reports during training camps. I’m pretty sure 100% of what they all say is bullshit. And you can’t blame them either. There is so much coverage that these people are forced to give us sound bytes and quotes every day for five weeks when most of the time there is nothing new to say. I’d fall back on the same tired cliches if I were in their shoes too.

So one more time, here’s my advice: Stop tuning into ESPN’s or the NFL Network’s nonstop football programs and spend that time watching the players with your own eyes. I promise you will discover something that either wins you a fantasy league or sends you on the path to gambling glory.

In that vein of ignoring all the noise out there, let’s run through the list of maddening terms and phrases that you’re likely to keep hearing for the next four weeks until the real season begins.

Regarding a player’s physical attributes…

  • “He’s in the best shape of his career.”
  • “He looks great. He added X lbs of muscle in the offseason.” (why does it always seem to be 15lbs, by the way?)

Interestingly enough, dozens of players fail their initial conditioning tests when training camp opens up. But we never hear quotes like “He’s in the worst shape of his career,” or, “He looks terrible. He added at least 25lbs of fat in the offseason.” Nope. Everyone just got jacked in the offseason, apparently.

Regarding a player’s commitment…

  • “He’s the first one in the building every morning and the last one to leave.”

In theory it should be impossible to say this about more than one person on any team, yet we hear it CONSTANTLY. The words “first” and “last” are singular things, yet all 53 starters on each team seem to be able to earn this rare status of commitment.

Regarding a player’s off the field demeanor…

  • [usually talking about a rookie] “He was the most polite guy. Everything was ‘yes sir, no sir’. He was just a pleasure to be around.”

Media people gotta be careful with this one. I specifically remember stories published about Aaron Hernandez that trumpeted this same level of politeness and respect.

Regarding plans for having the best offense in the NFL…

  • “The sky’s the limit for this offense.”
  • “They’ve installed an up-tempo offense to keep defenses on their heels.”
  • “They want to run X plays per game. They really think they can lead the NFL in that category.”

Every year we only get a handful of truly fast-working offenses (Denver, New England, New Orleans and Philly come to mind from 2013), yet you wouldn’t know it by sound bytes from each August.

Regarding a new QB/WR combination…

  • “They’re developing a great chemistry together that started way back in OTAs.”

Sure they are. When was the last time we heard that a new wideout wasn’t developing incredible chemistry with the star quarterback?

Regarding things getting heated on the practice field…

  • [after reporters ask about a fight that broke out during practice] “I don’t mind it one bit. It shows how passionate they are, how badly they’re all trying to make the team. As a matter of fact, some of the best teams I’ve ever been a part of have had fights like this during practice.”

Or, maybe you just have a bunch of assholes on your team….or maybe one player fucked another player’s wife. One way or another I’m sure it’s enhancing the team chemistry.

Regarding a team’s lofty expectations…

  • “It’s Super Bowl or bust.”

I hate to be the one to say this, but odds are it’s going to be bust.

And my favorite one…

  • “He’s hoping to avoid the classic sophomore slump.”
  • “He’s a prime second year breakout candidate.”

Ahh, yes, two sides of the second year player coin. Which is it? Is the slump a real thing? Is year two the usual breakout year? Depends on which media person is talking and what case he’s trying to make about that player.

Bonus Section –  Five “NOs” every football fan should be looking for out of his team during training camp:

  1. NO injury news beyond a tight hammy or strained oblique (and then we better see that player back on the field within a couple days)
  2. NO off field issues, stories, distractions (aka “The opposite of everything going on in the AFC North”)
  3. NO unexpected position competitions for a starting spot (because that means the expected starter probably isn’t good enough, he’s out of shape or he’s suddenly old)
  4. NO ongoing concerns on offensive line (this one always seems to be the immediate season killer, isn’t that right, Pittsburgh fans?)
  5. NO installing a new offensive scheme (the close relative of “[Insert QB’s Name] is going on his third offensive coordinator in four years”)

What do you all think? Did I miss any obvious cliches? Feel free to add your own.

I’ll be back next week with the beginning of division-by-division analysis.

Hey, NFL, Welcome Back! …A Preseason Primer

nfl training cmap

We typically use the word addiction only in the context of a harmful substance like alcohol, drugs, nicotine and porn. But when I arranged my entire weekend around being in front of a TV for the NFL’s Hall of Fame game this past Sunday, I started to wonder if football addiction could be a real thing.

Meriam-Webster defines addiction as the “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

I would certainly say my love of all things NFL is an ongoing and irresistible urge, but do I know it’s harmful? Is it harmful?

Let’s see. With the way I watch football, there is usually a healthy decrease in my work productivity and the quality of my social life. Gambling losses are almost always part of football season for me (not to mention losing money on fantasy leagues, pick ’em leagues, suicide pools and more). Anger, sometimes taken out on a remote control, laptop or a wall, is consistent with my NFL viewing. There’s no situation where my fiancee rolls her eyes and storms into the other room more often than when I refuse to give up the good TV because football’s on. Sure, let’s go with harmful.

To put it another way, if instead of watching and reading about football these past 15 years, I had spent all that time studying medicine, I’m 100% sure I would have cured…[checks the internet for the latest “in” disease]…Ebola!

But, hey, if you’re going to have an addiction, probably better that it’s an addiction to watching football than doing heroin, crack or child pornography, right?

And why does this football obsession have to be so harmful anyway? I’ll have you know not only did I watch every snap of that riveting preseason game between the Bills and Giants, but I also placed a bet on it, and came away with my first gambling win of the 2014 season.

If nothing more, that Hall of Fame game at least launches us into the part of the NFL calendar where we might finally start reading on-field news. Even though the league does a great job dominating the headlines during the offseason, I get pretty sick of days like these (captured from espn.com’s headlines in early July):

nfl headlines

Concussions, stolen championship ring, accused murderer transferring jails, interventions through the media, contract dispute, same person on the receiving end of that intervention charged with DWI, 3rd overall pick from 2013 Draft suspended, lesser-known wide receiver banned at least one year, random offensive lineman suspended four games…and some story about a Redskins blogger hired to defend the Redskin name quitting (sorry, didn’t know how to be more concise on that one).

That’s a fuckload of bad news. Free agency and the Draft is always a fun time, but the June/July lull is killer.

And that’s why late July was so exciting…training camps officially arrived.  Suddenly we got the real football headlines. Let’s see there were…ACL tears, Achilles ruptures, Lisfranc injuries, guys getting suspended a full year for being stupid with pot while other guys get suspended two games for committing an actual crime…there was the daily report on how many squares of toilet paper Johnny Manziel used to wipe his ass, and of course we had those ground-breaking sound bytes about how every single player in the league came into camp this year in the best shape of his life.

But finally, FINALLY, the calendar turned to August and actual football has taken over. August marks the time where I transition from just dipping my toe in the water of football preparation to going in hard with a cannonball from a 20-foot diving board. It’s go time!

Let’s celebrate the official “LESS THAN ONE MONTH TIL OPENING NIGHT” milestone by running through some random thoughts about the upcoming season, shall we?

  1. I just want to begin by thanking DirecTV for giving its subscribers a special sort of “kickoff” to the NFL season in the form of the June 10th email reminder that they will begin taking an additional $40 from us for the next six months. I believe what DirecTV does to me every year with this NFL Package is the exact definition of “holding someone hostage.” But it’s still the best $240 I spend each year.
  2. I looked back on the past 20 years of the Hall of Fame game. Turns out neither team that plays in that opening preseason game has gone on to win the Super Bowl in that same year. Sorry Giants and Bills, you’re out.
  3. I’ve never been to any of the sports Hall of Fames, but the NFL totally has me by the balls. I am in on the whole Hall of Fame induction weekend whichever year Tom Brady gets in. Cost won’t be a consideration.
  4. If the NFL permanently moves the extra point attempt from a 19-yard try to a 32-yarder, what are we expecting to happen? The success rate drops from 99.5% to 98.5%? Sure, let’s spend more time thinking about that rule change though.
  5. Michele Tafoya told us during Sunday night’s broadcast that the refs are now equipped with wireless mics in order to better communicate with one another during the game and get the calls right. Sorry, not buying it. The quality of NFL refereeing has tanked big time over the past few years. In fact, I’m willing to bet all my winnings from Sunday’s game on there being a Twitter-exploding referee debacle at some point this season. In 2012 we got the fake hail mary in Seattle that royally screwed Green Bay out of a #2 seed in the playoffs. Last year it was the amazingly inept Clete Blakeman crew that singlehandedly boned the Patriots out of the #1 seed with the picked up flag on an obvious penalty in the final seconds of New England’s loss at Carolina. What will it be this year? My fingers are always crossed that the Super Bowl is decided on a blown call so that the NFL will finally review the state of officiating and do something about this obvious problem.
  6. The truth is the refs might not even be the ones to blame. They’re just trying to figure out the NFL’s mind-boggling rules like we are. Breathing heavily on the quarterback’s helmet is a big penalty. A defender who attempts to hit the ball carrier in the shoulder but then has the unfortunate luck of that ball carrier lowering his head—resulting in a helmet-to-helmet hit—gets slapped with a penalty & fine. It seems offensive pass interference no longer exists. Securing a catch may involve making a “football move” but don’t forget to keep the ball secure while you fall to the ground, but if the ball touches the ground and doesn’t move, it’s OK, but if the ball moves even slightly when it hits the ground, no catch. Nothing confusing going on here.
  7. Let’s go a little broader for a minute here…I tend to constantly write about the NFC vs AFC discrepancy (no doubt you’ll be seeing lots of this from me throughout the year), and it’s a very real thing. According to Bovada’s Super Bowl odds, eight of the nine worst teams in the NFL are from the AFC. To put it another way: The NFC’s second worst team would have a good chance of making the AFC playoffs.
  8. Peter King from theMMQB.com has the top four teams in the NFL all coming from the NFC. He also has two teams you don’t associate with being a contender, Arizona and St. Louis, ranked higher than the 4th best AFC team (San Diego, by the way).
  9. If the NFL had the same level of yawn-inducing predictability as the NBA, we’d be in for a pretty disappointing season in the AFC. It seems like it would take a borderline miracle for the Broncos, Patriots and Colts not to take the top three seeds in some order.
  10. The next tier down from those three just doesn’t stack up…San Diego and the entire AFC North, I guess is what makes up that second tier.
  11. Thankfully the NFL is chaotic and unstable. I’m guessing we’ll see some surprises in the boring AFC.
  12. Over in the NFC, there’s some real intrigue among the perceived elite: Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Green Bay and (possibly) Chicago. I can see any of those teams getting the #1 seed or the #5 seed, or possibly missing the playoffs all together.
  13. I’m going to wait until we’ve gotten through the first three preseason games to get deep into my predictions for division winners, playoff seedings and Super Bowl matchup, but right now I’m leaning towards the Saints earning the NFC’s top seed. They’ve got a top QB and coach combination. Their defense improved greatly last year and added some key pieces in the offseason. They can’t possibly be as bad on the road as they were in 2013. And they don’t have to play in the NFC West, which is a HUGE advantage over expected juggernaut and defending Super Bowl Champ Seattle.
  14. As for my totally random, not at all statistically-driven, call it a hunch prediction for who will win the Super Bowl this year: The Philadelphia Eagles. Seriously, I have no idea why I think this, but I always put my money where my mouth is. I have a betting slip in my wallet from the Aria in Vegas where I’m getting 12-to-1 odds on Philly winning it all.
  15. Problem is…I made that bet in March, when Desean Jackson was still on the team. Their current odds according to Bovada? 25-to-1. I apparently got robbed.
  16. Back to the AFC side of things…I’m trying my hardest not to predict the Patriots to go 16-0. If they had as easy of a schedule this year as they have the past few years, I’d probably go for it. The defense could be incredible (possibly seven or eight first rounders starting by midseason) while the offense will somehow reach their usual “top 5” status (amazingly, last year they ranked 3rd in points per game, but you probably just remember how awful the receivers were, how bad Stevan Ridley was holding onto the ball, and how Tom Brady set career worsts in several categories, including “amount of times staring daggers through his overmatched receivers). As a New England fan, I’m back to being my overly optimistic and giddy self.
  17. Gun to my head without doing all my research, if I have to pick five teams that didn’t make last year’s playoffs to make this year’s playoffs (there are always five), I’d go with Chicago, Washington,  Houston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore. That will likely change by the time I release my full 2014 predictions in a couple weeks.

That’ll do it for my broad preseason primer. Stay tuned later this week for an article breaking down Preseason “speak” and mythology. Then starting next week we’ll go division by division and look at the most important questions heading into the season. And finally, a couple weeks out, it’ll be time to lock in each team’s win total for the year along with the usual predictions for Super Bowl winner and individual awards.

Football’s Back!

10 Observations From the First 21 Days of Being Engaged

wedding planning It’s looking like getting engaged a few weeks ago is going to make the next 12 months of my life pretty busy planning a wedding. Who knew? That just means you’re likely to see some wedding-themed blogs popping up every now and then. I can’t imagine this planning is going to go very smoothly so tune into the blog to see the trials & tribulations of a guy who has no business planning a wedding. Should be fun for everyone but me.

Let’s kick this new wedding section off with a quick list of observations from the first 21 days of being engaged.

  1. The normal first interaction with someone after you’ve gotten engaged is about seven seconds of congratulations followed by seven minutes of questions. “Oh my god, Congratulations! I’m so happy for you…Do you know where you’re gonna have the wedding? What month? How big is it gonna be? What type of venue are you looking at? Are you gonna wear a tux or a suit?” Jesus, lady, give us a minute to finish having engagement sex before you barge in with all these questions that we haven’t even come close to thinking about yet.
  2. Within the first few days of getting engaged, your fiancee’s family will have told you repeatedly how happy they are that this is happening and how their daughter couldn’t have found a better man. No matter what you fuck up over the next 30-40 years, you’ll always have this to point to whenever her parents are saying things like, “I don’t know why you ever married this loser in the first place.”
  3. While it’s not fair to hold “I spent X thousand dollars for that tiny piece of jewelry on your finger” over her head for eternity, it certainly should buy you a lot of leeway, rapid forgiveness and some get out of jail free cards for at least a few months after the engagement (And now people will realize why I planned my engagement just six weeks before the start of the NFL season…all the TVs in the house are now mine on Sundays).
  4. Over these first few weeks, at least a couple people will tell you how excited they are for your wedding next year, and you’ll get to share a brief evil laugh with your fiancee after that person walks away because there isn’t a single scenario in which you’d actually be inviting these people.
  5. Celebrations galore. Everyone wants to celebrate your engagement. And who are you to say no to a nice dinner, a round of drinks or an engagement party? Let them spoil you. You only get married a few times.
  6. As the man in the relationship and the person with the awesome sense of humor, you’ll be making tasteless wedding jokes to your fiancee for the better part of the next year. Get it started immediately. When she says you need to eventually register at Crate & Barrel and Macy’s, tell her that’s fine, but she should remember you want to register on these websites too: http://www.golfsmith.comhttp://www.mancrates.com/shop
  7. I’ll hand it to my fiancee. She seems more than willing to accommodate my insane obsession with the NFL and has agreed to not purposely schedule any wedding planning stuff on Sundays from September – January. But I’m already stressing about that random weekend where a venue or caterer or someone can only meet on Sunday and I have to look like the world’s biggest dickhead while I try to convince her to go without me (my strategy so far has been to put A LOT of work into this wedding planning thing before the NFL season kicks off so that she’ll hopefully remember my efforts and let me skip a meeting or 12 during the season).
  8. The speed at which “a perfect wedding” fades away as soon as you start looking into prices is incredible. The dream is to have the most beautiful venue, amazing food, top shelf open bar, the greatest party DJ, perfect decorations and flowers…and then you quickly say, “An above average venue with edible food, well-level liquor, decorations from Party Center and someone who knows how to press play on iTunes will do.”
  9. A heads-up for the men: When you start looking at venues, try not to get offended by the wedding planners/coordinators completely ignoring you. I mean completely. We had one woman showing us around a venue who exclusively started sentences with, “I’ve had brides do [fill in the blank].” She never once looked at me. I was invisible. She made it sound like no man has ever contributed to the planning of a wedding. Don’t be upset about this because it might just work as a nice subliminal message to your fiancee that she’s in charge, meaning she’s doing all the work.
  10. Last but not least: I highly recommend getting a degree in advanced accounting before you embark on wedding planning. You will be immediately bombarded by options, fees, taxes, what’s included, what’s not included, what to calculate on a per person basis vs what’s a flat fee, upgrades, per hour extensions, etc, etc, [picture me miming the act of blowing my brains out with a shotgun and you’ll get my point].